I Was a Guest on Radio
I was invited to be a guest on Talking Relationships on 2UE radio last night with David Prior and Melissa Ferrari. It’s a regular weekly show on Tuesday nights from 9pm to 11pm. They have interesting guests talking about anything to do with relationships. A listener had asked a question about the grief surrounding the death of her adult daughter who died about 8 years ago. I was asked to give her some tips on how she her grief could be eased. I think that it can never be eased because there are such strong emotions attached to the loss and I decided to write a blog post about the subject.
Click on the title below, it will open a new window where you can listen to the whole program. If you want to skip ahead and go to my part it’s between 120 and 127:53 minutes.
It’s an interesting show to listen to, so by all means listen to the whole show. David and Melissa bounce off each other so naturally and have lovely voices.
The following is my blog post about grieving for your child.
What I write is true for any loved one who has died. I’ve written this in response to the program.
Grieving Your Child
Grief never ends, it changes your life forever. It’s something you have to go through because you can’t “Get over it” (as people often say), you’ve got to go through it. Saying that reminds me of the Playschool (a children’s show in Australia) song, “You can’t go over, you can’t go under it, you have to go through it”. It’s the same with grief. If you try to push your emotions down and choose to ignore them, they will only make your grieving longer and more difficult and you have to deal with it later.
The problem with grief is, it’s perfectly normal to grieve but friends and family feel uncomfortable in the company of your grief.
Feelings have to come out somehow. Sometimes your feelings look like anger or having a permanent smile on your face or being unusually quiet. Make sure that you give yourself permission to feel whatever your feelings are, no matter how long since your child has died.
The depth of your grief is directly related to the relationship you had with the person who died. The closer the relationship, you will find the deeper the grief will be. If you’re grieving the death of your child, the despair and pain is unbelievable because our children aren’t supposed to die before us. This grief is the most devastatingly painful thing you will ever experience.
Some people don’t show their grief in public. I find this with couples, one person will openly show their grief and the other won’t. This causes conflict within the relationship.
Tips to help you get up in the morning
- Know that grief is a normal human reaction to the death of a loved one and your journey through grief is unique to you. Remember that sometimes you need to move back to Melbourne (Cait’s analogy of grief). It’s your journey and what ever you feel, sit in that feeling, experience it and then go on with your life. Don’t let anyone tell you how you should be feeling because it’s not their journey. The trouble with this journey is there is no schedule, you have to experience this journey yourself and learn how you’re going to live your “New Life” without your child physically being in it.
- If you have a partner be mindful that you are both grieving and it will probably be different for each of you. Make time for each other to talk about or sit with each other because sometimes there are no words. One of you might talk and the other is quiet and wants to be strong but breaks down while away from the house for your sake. Both of you may choose to grieve away from everyone (even your partner), this is what my husband and I did.
I didn’t see my husband cry about the death of our daughter. Then about 5 years ago while he was telling a male friend about our daughter’s death, he began to cry. He apologised for crying. This particular friend is perfectly fine with emotions being shown and they had a chat about why it’s all right for my husband to show how he feels. It was a deep loss and while my husband and I were grieving (for many years after her death) he felt he had to be strong for me, I felt I had to be strong for him and sometimes that didn’t feel comfortable. It strained our marriage at the time but we got through it and are doing better at talking about our daughter and what it means for each of us. That was 31 years ago, through the years we have learned how to navigate our individual grief by talking about our feelings and how they impact each of us.
- In the early days try to stick to a daily routine. Even if it’s just getting out of bed, having a shower and getting dressed. Believe me, getting out of bed is an impossible task in the beginning because it seems so pointless.
- You could feel overwhelmed by your grief. If that’s the case, put aside time to just grieve and remember your child. Look at old photos, remember stories, and remind yourself in anyway you need. You might like to write in a journal, in fact this is one of the best things to do and it’s what I did. My journal started off being a report of what happened each day but became the most emotional and vulnerable thing I’ve ever written. Sometimes I go back and read a few pages to remind me of how I got through my days. This gives me strength to carry on during the days tough, like birthday, anniversary of her death, Easter, Mother’s Day, any celebration really. Some celebrations hit me by surprise and I feel like I’m right back at the beginning again. I’ve been writing journals since I was 14 years old and when I go back and read what I’ve been through I can think wow, I’ve been through so much and I’m still here. It gives me great joy to know this.
- Make sure you have a strong support network around you, made up of people you trust and feel safe with. These are the people who you’ll be teaching how to be present for you in your grief.
- At first you might want to only share your grief with one person. Choose the person that you trust the most because this person will be sitting with you many, many, many times. Before you share anything with this person, sit down and write a list of boundaries or rules so they can support you the way you want to be supported. People lose friends during this time because friends don’t know how to talk to you and don’t want to upset you. The message to friends is, “That you can’t upset me any more than I already am”. “In fact I love hearing my child’s name, so speak it whenever you think of her/him”. Here are a few examples of the rules; sit and listen; don’t speak; hug me; don’t give any advice; I’ll tell you when I want to be alone or something like that.
Your friend is there to support you because you’ve taken the time to choose this particular friend, they will understand and be there for you in the way that you want. They might even be grateful to know how you want to be helped and they can inform other friends on how you want to be helped. It stops all the guessing and makes it easier on everyone.
- Start an Art Journal. You can draw on one page and explain on the other. You don’t have to be an artist. I draw with wax crayons and push the colours around the page. It’s amazing how satisfying this feels. You’ll be surprised what is revealed to you. When you finish drawing, stand back and have a look at the page. See what feelings come to the surface for you and write about how you felt during your drawing and then standing back and embracing your process of the drawing.
Alternatively, you could do your drawing and write words on the picture as they come into your head or you could do all of the above. Work out what feels comfortable for you and do it your way.
- Don’t compare your grief to anyone else who is grieving. Remember your grief is unique.
Sometimes when you’re talking to others about your experience in grief they will start talking about theirs and it begins to feel like a competition. While listening to them, keep thinking “My grief is different to there’s and that’s okay”. You’ve helped someone talk about their grief and they may never have spoken about it to anyone else. This is a good thing and everyone should have that freedom to feel comfortable about sharing their experience in their unique journey.
- When you talk to others share what you feel comfortable sharing. You don’t have to tell everyone everything. Just because they’ve asked a question you don’t have to give an answer unless you feel safe in doing so. Tell the story you want to tell at the time. As you become more familiar with your grief, your story will change over the years. I know mine did and I’m more comfortable telling the truth about my story now. It was too painful to tell the true story at the beginning.
- Make sure you find a way to ask for help but you probably won’t have the brainpower to do so at the beginning. So give a support person permission to see and acknowledge your day-to-day struggle and offer to help. This help could be making you a cup of tea and a snack, doing the shopping (in the early days), cleaning your house, taking the kids for a play date, cooking a meal and the list goes on.
- If you don’t have anyone to talk to or trust to be safe with, you can always speak to a professional who specializes in grief, loss and bereavement. You may not feel comfortable with doing this, try it, your experience needs to be heard so you understand that what you’re going through is a normal part of life and you will continue to grieve and grow throughout your life.
Grief can also be of the unhealthy kind and a professional can explain the difference between healthy grief and the other types of grief which will need different treatment.
As you learn to live with your feelings and emotions, life gets easier or at least more tolerable. You learn to live this “New Life”, a very different life to what you expected but you know you can live your life and still grieve the death of your child.